Barack's Berlin Gym Encounter: Obama Felt 'Hustled' by German Journalist

By in New York

Barack Obama's encounter with a German reporter while working out in a Berlin gym last week has become an issue in the US, where bloggers are calling the story embarrassing. Now Obama has given his version of events: "She hustled us."

Bild reporter Judith Bonesky with Barack Obama in the gym.

Bild reporter Judith Bonesky with Barack Obama in the gym.

Barack Obama knows how to handle the media. His appearances are strictly choreographed, as if they were held on movie sets, and you only get access to the star if you fit the marketing concept. During his visit to Berlin, for example, he only allowed hand-picked journalist to interview him -- with one exception.

"Bild Reporter with Obama in the Gym," was the banner headline of the Friday edition of the German tabloid Bild published the day after Obama's visit to the German capital. "While thousands waited for him at the Victory Column," wrote Judith Bonesky," I, the Bild reporter, met Barack Obama alone -- in the gym!"

The story contained a florid description of Obama's physical attributes, praising his "well-trained arms," "his tight rear view," and how he lifted the masculine 32-kilogram (70-pound) dumbbells "first 10 times with his right arm, then 10 times with his left." And then there was the culmination: "Barack put his arm around my shoulders. I held him round the waist. Wow! He isn't even sweating!" And, lastly, there was Bonesky's conclusion: "What a man!"

Obama Says He Didn't Know She Was a Reporter

Now Obama has revealed how he experienced the encounter. "She hustled us," he told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

"We walk into the gym," Obama told Dowd. "She's already on the treadmill. She looks like just an ordinary German girl. She smiles and sort of waves, shyly, but doesn't go out of her way to say anything. As I'm walking out, she says: 'Oh, can I have a picture? I'm a big fan.' Reggie takes the picture.” Reggie Love is Obama's personal assistant.

So, according to Obama, he didn't know she was a reporter.

By contrast, here's Bonesky's version: "The door opens. It's really HIM! At 1.87 meters (6.14 feet), he's much taller than I'd imagined. He is wearing a gray T-shirt and black sweatpants, both from Nike, with white jogging shoes from Asics. And a dazzling smile! 'Hallo, how are you?,' he asks in English in his strong , very masculine voice. I reply: 'Very good. And how are you?' He responds: 'Very well, thanks!'"

"I call out: 'Mr Obama, sorry, could I take a picture?' He smiles: 'Of course!' Obama asks me my name. I reply: My name is Judith.' He says: 'I'm Barack Obama. Nice to meet you, Judith!'"

A spokesman for Bild told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the newspaper "doesn't want to make any further comments on its own reporting."

Everything is subjective. Bild even published a video on its Web site with the introduction: "Bonesky can hardly believe her luck." The reporter describes Obama as "very cute," and says, "I'm still in a dream."

Obama saw the newspaper and the headline that same evening, at 10:45 p.m., while he was eating dinner at a Berlin restaurant. While there, Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann presented him in person with a copy of the next day's paper and had his picture taken while he was doing it. This photo was also published on the Internet.

In his conversation with Dowd, Obama likened his experience in the Berlin gym with a scene from the movie "The Color of Money."

"Do you remember 'The Color of Money' with Paul Newman?" Obama asked Dowd. "And Forest Whitaker is sort of sitting there, acting like he doesn't know how to play pool. And then he hustles the hustler."

"Let's Enjoy her Sexytime Memories"

Obama wasn't the only one to comment on Bonesky's antics. Center-left German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote: "This report -- that much can already be said -- is like a match point won, like a journalistic landing on the moon, for Miss or Mrs. Bonesky."

The translated Bild report was rapidly picked up by US blogs, where it became the subject of endless derision.

Blogger Warner Todd Huston wrote: "Apparently, Bild, a newspaper in Germany, hires 14-year-old, starry-eyed, fan-girls as reporters instead of serious grown-ups. Or, at least one would be excused in thinking this reporter was a rock-star struck teeny bopper upon reading her gushingly immature account of having an exercise workout with Barack Obama on the German leg of his trip."

Bonesky is actually 27. "Let's enjoy her sexytime memories, together," the Washington blog Wonkette said, recalling the encounter in a wooden translation of the Bild report that evokes fictional reporter Borat in his comedy "Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan."

What does this story teach us? Even Obama -- with his amazing people skills -- still has lessons to learn. “I'm just realizing what I've got to become accustomed to," he told Dowd.

With reporting by Björn Hengst

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